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See, you’d be amazed!

See, you’d be amazed!

See, you’d be amazed!

The Women's Museum in Hittisau is one of a kind in Austria and has existed for twenty years. Its director, Stefania Pitscheider-Soraperra, views the institution as a place where the world is debated.

Ms. Pitscheider-Soraperra, you have always taken an interdisciplinary approach to curating the Women’s Museum. Your goal has been to make topics more approachable with visual art, theater, and movement. What has been the response? Stefania Pitscheider-Soraperra: “For us, the museum is not a container for exhibitions, but a place where society is debated. That is what is perceived in the professional world and by the public. We have enormous output, but at the same time there is a shortage of space, money and personnel. But we are confident that this will change.

There are currently about twenty women working in the Women’s Museum, all of who have different backgrounds. For instance, one studied gender studies, the other is a hiking guide, one is a pre-press technician and the other a farmer. Each of these women joins the team of facilitators with a readiness to deal intensively with our issues. After my twelve years in this institution, I still consider this to be a gift.

We are dedicating our anniversary year to these women and to seeing. The backstory is as follow: one of our cultural facilitators guided a university professor from Munich through the museum. At the end of the tour, he complimented her and then asked what her educational background was. She said: none, she was a farmer. At first the professor didn’t know what to say, to which she replied: “See, you’d be amazed!” That’s the essence of seeing, being amazed and truly comprehending. But it’s also about seeing and being open to other places in the world – that’s what we do at the international women’s museum conference. We have met in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Alice Springs, Bonn or Istanbul. This year on our anniversary, we’re meeting in Hittisau.”

The activities of the small women’s museum in the diminutive town of Hittisau often have a big impact. Indeed, for many months one such initiative was visible on the facade of the Kunsthaus Bregenz, where an oversized portrait of the artist Anne-Marie Jehle was hung. Jehle made feminist “world art” in Vorarlberg in the 1970s, but she was only discovered long after her death in 2000. The fact that her portrait was hung at the KUB is thanks in part to the Women’s Museum. Pitscheider-Soraperra: “Anne-Marie Jehle is a special artist. Thanks to her artistic potential and her formal capacity for expression, she was able to keep pace with what was happening in art worldwide at the time. She created her art in secret all her life, filling her house in Feldkirch with artwork. Thanks to the intuition of a few people, her legacy was saved. But it might as well have happened that everything was thrown away. The Women’s Museum has dedicated a large exhibition to her. The fact that she is so present today, twenty years after her death, has great symbolic value and makes me happy.”

You grew up in South Tyrol. After studying art history, you worked for a long time in Vienna at large institutions such as the Kunsthalle, and also at the social artists’ collective “Wochenklausur,” where you installed supply buses for homeless people for the Secession or set up housing for prostitutes from Zurich’s drug scene. You moved to Vorarlberg 15 years ago. Are you happy living here? Pitscheider-Soraperra: Admittedly, the first few years in Vorarlberg were a challenge. I have since settled in well. I appreciate the high willingness of the people here to cooperate and the cosmopolitanism of those who are open to the world. These aspects are so pronounced that they make up for some of the shortcomings. But seriously, I really like living here. That being said, my origins are also important to me. I grew up in a Ladin valley and even today I speak Ladin with my son in Feldkirch. Working in institutions like the Kunsthalle Wien or with the Wochenklausur was important. One is a big, institutional behemoth, the other is free art.

The Women’s Museum allows me to combine both: Working in an institution where the spirit of free projects prevails. The Women’s Museum is a mirror for the present. Are these good times for women in Austrian public life right now? Pitscheider-Soraperra: It’s great that we have had a female chancellor in Austria and now have a government with over fifty percent women, but it was also high time. On the “surface,” there is cause for optimism, but just underneath it’s important not to overlook the many serious disadvantages: For example, the fact that women are still exposed to great violence, that there are glass ceilings in many professions, that women are still paid very unequally, especially in Vorarlberg. The fact that this change is happening so slowly is because our society is still deeply rooted in patriarchal structures. Much has been fought for, but there are also always setbacks. Especially today, in view of a shift to the right all over the world, we must be particularly careful. We must cherish, safeguard, develop and raise awareness of these rights, especially with regard to the younger generation.

Issue: Winter 2020-21 Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine
Author: Carina Jielg